The World Today
By Rachael Brown
Researchers who set out to prove the benefits of the Paleo diet have instead discovered it could cause significant and rapid weight gain.
The study by Melbourne University researchers, took two groups of overweight mice with pre-diabetes symptoms. One group was put on the low-carb, high-fat Paleo diet, and the other on their normal diet
The scientists found that mice on the Paleo diet gained 15 per cent of their body weight, in only eight weeks.
The findings, published in Nature's Nutrition and Diabetes journal have reignited the debate between scientists and celebrity chefs over the controversial diet.
The increasingly popular Paleo (or "caveman") diet has been touted as a way to lose weight and even reverse or better manage conditions like diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, and multiple sclerosis.
But University of Melbourne diabetes researcher Associate Professor Sof Andrikopoulos said the results of his study were a cautionary tale about fad diets.
Professor Andrikopoulos began research to find out whether the Paleo diet could benefit patients with diabetes or pre-diabetes.
Mice were used for the study due to their genetic, biological, and behavioural characteristics which closely resemble that of humans.
Professor Andrikopoulos said he expected some weight loss, but was instead surprised by the extent of weight gain.
"The fat mice became even fatter and their glucose control became even worse," Professor Andrikopoulos said.
He said, comparing this to a person, it would mean an 80-kilogram man would soon hit 92 kilograms on the scales.
"The Paleo diet may not necessarily be good for everybody. My advice is that if you're concerned about weight and your health, go and seek professional advice, go and speak to your GP, go and speak to your dietician, your nutritionist, and get tailored individualised advice," Professor Andrikopoulos said.
Controversial Paleo advocate Pete Evans defends the diet
Last year one of the Paleo diet's biggest promoters, celebrity chef Pete Evans, was widely criticised after releasing a cookbook that recommended feeding infants bone broth as baby formula.
What is the Paleo or Stone Age diet?
• The Paleo diet is based on the idea that we should eat what we did when humans were hunter gatherers.
• Foods included are lean meat, vegetables, fruit, eggs, and seafood. Those on a Paleo diet are encouraged to exclude grains, legumes, dairy products, refined sugar, salt and processed foods.
• Although the Paleolithic or Stone Age diet first appeared in the 1970s, it has received renewed interest over the past few years.
• It is claimed the diet reduces body weight and helps prevent conditions such as diabetes, high blood cholesterol, stroke, osteoporosis and inflammatory disease.
• Most dietitians don't recommend the diet because it encourages high meat consumption, which has been linked to an increased risk of bowel cancer, and because it encourages people to cut out whole food groups (grains and dairy).
Source: ABC Health and Wellbeing
But today, Evans stood by the diet that has given him over 1 million Facebook followers and healthy cookbook sales.
"I put my hand on my heart and say 100 per cent that the Paleo way, as we promote it, is 100 per cent healthy for people with type 2 diabetes," Evans told The World Today.
Evans denied accusations he was promoting a diet with little or no scientific evidence and said this latest research would not temper his promotion of the diet.
"I work with Dr Lynda Frassetto from the University of San Francisco. If you want to see the research, have a look at the research she did two years ago comparing the Paleo diet to the American Diabetes Association diet, the Paleo diet came out on top," he said.
The study Peter Evans refers to is one Dr Lynda Frassetto was co-author of, conducted at the University of California, concluding "even short-term consumption of a Paleolithic-type diet improved glucose control and lipid profiles in people with type 2 diabetes compared with a conventional diet containing moderate salt intake, low-fat dairy, whole grains and legumes."
Also in Australia, Adelaide researchers in collaboration with the CSIRO have developed what they describe as "a diet and exercise that reduces the burden of type 2 diabetes, and has reduced participants' medication levels by an average of 40%. The diet incorporates an eating pattern that is very low in carbohydrates and higher in protein and unsaturated fats.
Peter Evans added "The first question I'd ask is: 'Why are they testing mice on a diet that isn't their natural diet in the first place?'."
But Professor Andrikopoulos insisted: "We do know that mice and men share genes and share the same physiology, all of the advances in the medical field that we have and we enjoy have been tested first in animal models."
Although he did concede that every body was different.
"I don't think you can make a blanket statement that it's going to beneficial for everybody and I think people's circumstances, their living style, their exercise regime differs, their genetic makeup is different," he said.
"For example, Pete Evans is a thin guy who exercises daily and he has the time to go out and source organic stuff.
"Now if you're a family person, you've got two kids, a full time job that's not in the diet industry and you're doing pick-ups and drop-offs at school, doing sports runs on the weekend, you don't have time to do what Pete Evans does — to go to the organic market, to pick the right foods, I don't think you can blanket statement everybody."
Professor Andrikopoulos added that his research was independent as it was internally funded by the University of Melbourne.
"I am employed, in essence, by the National Health and Medical Research Council via the University of Melbourne. There is no conflict, unlike him [Pete Evans], there is no conflict, I've got no cookbook," he said.